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Decidedly Jazz Danceworks offers sneak peek of new dance centre

Eric Volmers
Calgary Herald
Published on: April 27, 2016

Thirty-two years ago, Decidedly Jazz Danceworks was a modest summer project that held practices in basements and "funny little rooms" at the University of Calgary.

Three years later, its first studio was a small space above a bread store.

"It had low ceilings and pillars, and the whole building shook when you jumped," says DJD co-founder Vicki Adams Willis, sitting at the new DJD Dance Centre on 12th Avenue S.W.

While it may be an exaggeration to say the new area has been 32 years in the making, a sneak-peek tour for media of the new facility on Wednesday morning represents more than a decade of planning.

Next week, the centre will open for dance classes, while the nine-dancer professional company will launch its first production, New Universe, on May 27 in its new home.

The $26-million centre — funded by three levels of government, donors and fundraising — is a partnership with the Kahanoff Foundation. The 12-storey facility, which is adjoining the existing Kahanoff Centre, has 38,000 square feet of space for the six-floor DJD space, and 65,000 square feet of office space on the above six floors.

Along with its administration offices, the DJD centre will feature seven studios, all encased in a glass facade that will allow pedestrians and motorists on 12th Avenue to see the activity inside. The largest of the studios can be turned into a 230-seat theatre.

On Wednesday, DJD’s dance company rehearsed for its new production in the upper Studio 5 against a backdrop of Calgary’s cityscape.

"We can see the cars passing by on the street or the pedestrians walking by," says Katherine Hayward, who has danced with DJD for the past eight seasons. "We can see the office workers upstairs peering into our rehearsals and classes. I think the space is so beautiful that it’s really exciting as dancers. It has this open feeling, which makes us open as artists to work with."

DJD artistic director Kimberly Cooper said creating, rehearsing and performing a new production in one space is a "game-changer" for the company, which has created more than 60 works in its 32-year existence. Beyond the practical benefits of the sprung floors, high ceilings and natural light, the new space will allow the company to design performances specifically for the theatre.

"I feel like this whole building for us is just a bunch of endless possibilities," she said. "It will probably take a couple of years, but it’s going to be a great couple of years."

While the centre will serve as DJD’s new home, it will also be rented out to other arts groups in the city. It features a 2,200-square-foot "community living room space" for meetings, receptions and workshops. Groups such as One Yellow Rabbit, the Old Trout Puppet Workshop and Alberta Ballet are among those that have already expressed interest.

The DJD Dance Centre was designed by Janice Liebe of Calgary’s Dialog, who was told the building should "bring dance to the street." To give the building a sense of movement, all of the studios, theatre and public space in the building are represented by singular stacked glass boxes that are rotated against each other.

As a result "the building has a sense that it was shaking loose," Liebe says. "The idea is that, on a performance night, you can see people gathering in the space: having a glass of wine, getting ready to see the show and actually seeing the dancers in the studios above us and having a sense of activity on all levels."